It goes without saying that every athlete strives for excellence.
They hone their skills so that they can one day reach the top in their respective sport. But they also acknowledge that there are things simply bigger than the game.
Donning the colors of their country and representing them on an international stage would fall under that category.
URI senior basketball guard Tayra Melendez was fortunate enough to represent her beloved Puerto Rico this past summer at the Pan American Games.
Melendez has been an integral part of the women’s basketball program for the duration of her collegiate career. Her double figures in scoring and ability as a shot blocker made her a bright spot during a bleak two-year stretch in which the Rams went 13-46. Melendez and the team remained patient and enjoyed a huge turnaround last season en route to a 17-13 record that has revitalized the once-floundering program.
Consistent play and her defensive ability earned the crafty guard international attention. She played with Team Puerto Rico’s U-18 team and made such an impression, they retained Melendez for the national team.
“It’s truly an honor,” she said. “I have a Puerto Rican flag in my room and I always get emotional when I look at it.”
Melendez moved to Massachusetts as a child, but throughout her life, she has carried a part of Puerto Rico with her. She immerses herself in the culture, food and music, which has enabled her to stay close to her roots. Basketball gave her the chance to return.
The transition from URI to Puerto Rico required a learning curve. She was a “baby” on a team surrounded by seasoned veterans. It can be tough acclimating to that type of environment, but she impressed them with her fluent Spanish and imposing defense.
Melendez helped the team earn a silver medal at the 2014 Centrobasket Championships. She competed again this year at the Pan American Games in July. Puerto Rico failed to advance through the group round, but Melendez had the fortune of sharing the court with her other home, the United States, which boasted a roster that included arguably the top college player, University of Connecticut’s Breanna Stewart.
“It wasn’t about Puerto Rico versus U.S.,” Melendez said. “It was just a great feeling to know that I could compete with them. “
Melendez is hopeful that ample experience around established talent will help her become a more complete player.
“The energy I’m able to bring defensively, I want to bring that back,” Melendez said. “They made sure that I also focus on my offensive game. That’s what I hope to do this season, not letting either one slack.”
Now that her latest stint with Team Puerto Rico has concluded, Melendez’s attention is once again on the upcoming college basketball season, a promising one, which Melendez envisions will be the validation of their successful rebuild.
“I cannot see myself not winning an A-10 Championship,” the captain said.
Melendez and the Rams’ quest for conference glory begins on Nov. 13 against Syracuse University.